We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Friday, October 31, 2014


Glenn Morton and the talented students of Classic Lyric Arts summer program

Among the many worthy organizations advancing the careers of young singers and collaborative pianists is Classic Lyric Arts which runs training programs in Italy (for the past six years) and in France (for the past three years).  The two programs, L'Art du Chant Français and La Lingua della Lirica, were founded by Artistic Director Glenn Morton, vocal coach and teacher of diction and vocal literature at all three top music schools in New York City--and holder of a number of other prestigious positions.

The three week training programs accept only 40 students a year, of which 34 are singers and 6 are collaborative pianists.  Admission is based on audition with career potential and readiness for advanced training being considered as well as talent. Exceptional students are granted scholarships.

One might read about what is being taught--repertoire, language, culture, diction, history, style, and dramatic presentation.  One might read about the highly experienced teachers--Ubaldo Fabbri in Italy and Michel Sénéchal in France.  But the proof of the pudding is in the performance.  (Try saying that ten times really fast!)

Last night at the beautiful old world townhouse occupied by The Kosciuszko Foundation, we heard a recital of some of the students from last summer and from prior years.  The performances were completely engaging.  There were qualities that each artist demonstrated, confirming the belief that they were well-selected for the program and profited by the intense immersive training and daily coachings.  

Every word was comprehensible as if the graduates of the total immersion programs were native speakers/singers.  Phrasing was superb.  Dramatic presentations were totally believable as if the arias and duets that were sung were given within the context of the entire opera.  

This seems to be our week for hearing the duets we cherish.  Last night, performers connected with one another and raised their voices in gorgeous harmony that delighted the ear. Soprano Marisa Karchin and mezzo Kady Evanyshyn, having completed the French program last summer, were exquisite together in "Dôme épais" from Leo Delibes' Lakmé.

From Bellini's I Capuleti ei Montecchi, we heard "Ah, crudel, d'onor ragioni" performed  by the lovely Larisa Martinez as Juliet and Kirsten Scott as Romeo.  We have heard Ms. Scott and reviewed her performances a few times and get a lot of joy out of witnessing her growth as an artist.  

Soprano Nayoung Ban was a winning Adina with Terence Stone, a graduate of last summer's Italian program, an ardent Nemorino with all the required pathos. "Chiedi all'aura lusinghiera" from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore was an appropriate choice for these two fresh young voices.

The charming duet "Nuit paisible et sereine" from Berlioz' Béatrice et Bénédicte was sung in beautifully balanced harmony by soprano Dorothy Gal and mezzo Tal Heller, both graduates from last summer's French program.

From Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia we heard "Dunque io son" performed by the adorable Madison Marie McIntosh who made the most of her innocent appearance and wondrously flexible voice to outsmart the wily Figaro, so well performed by baritone Xiaomeng Zhang. We have heard and enjoyed both singers before.

"O soave fanciulla" from Puccini's La Bohème was performed by soprano Nadia Petrella and tenor Brian Moore.  We were impressed by the way they connected with one another to the extent that we forgot they were acting.

Equally convincing were "Piangi, fanciulla/Si, vendetta" from Verdi's Rigoletto in which soprano Boya Wei portrayed the innocent but betrayed Gilda with lovely tone and affect.  SeungHyeon Baek was completely convincing as Rigoletto and conveyed his character's paternal compassion just as well as his angry vengeful nature.

In "Au fond du temple saint" from Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles, tenor Sean Christensen and baritone John Viscardi not only sang to perfection but they created a scene in which you could comprehend the relationship between Nadir and Zurga--both the caring and the rivalry.  So intense was their interaction and reaction that when they sang "Elle est fuit" we turned around expecting to see Leila retreating!

Mr. Viscardi is a superb actor and Mercutio's solo "Mab, la reine des mensonges" from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette was a fine addition to the program.  Mr. Viscardi just completed the French program and completed the Italian program five years earlier.  It is testament to the success of the programs that many students return for more study.

There was one more solo--not an aria but a song from Berlioz' Les nuits d'été, "Villanelle".  Dorothy Gal, who has attended both programs, invested the song with all the delights of nature through the colors of her voice.

All four collaborative pianists excelled--Alden Gatt, Laetitia Ruccolo, Michael Stewart and Michael Sheetz who got up and spoke about his own experiences with the program, first as a student and evolving into a position as coach. So much talent all in one glorious evening!  Let no one sound the death knell for opera when such amazing young people devote themselves to such rigorous study with such impressive results!

© meche kroop

Thursday, October 30, 2014


Tami Petty
Since 1958 Joy in Singing has given an annual award to a singer who exemplifies the rare art of communication through singing.  This year's award went to soprano Tami Petty who exemplifies the goals of the organization.  She is a true "recitalist".

This is not to ignore the beauty of her instrument or technique but what made this recital so special was the way she transmitted not only the meaning of the text but also her feelings about it.  In this context, we were led to share her joy in singing.  And isn't that what it's all about?

Ms. Petty charmed the audience by joking about the lack of translations and introducing the songs herself. Happily, her choice of material focused on the late 19th c. and early 20th c.  Many of the songs were new to us.  We confess to a strong bias towards A.B.E. (anything but English); nonetheless, her choices in that language were just fine.  She opened the program with a set of American parlor songs--all settings of texts by Shakespeare.

Harvey Worthington Loomis' "Hark, hark, the lark" was followed by H.H.A. Beach's "Take, o take those lips away" in which Ms. Petty enjoyed the melisma and spun out a gorgeous high note; piano partner Miori Sugiyama was notable in that song.  Ms. Petty revealed her charming personality in Frederick Ayres' setting of the cute "Where the bee sucks".  The set ended with the provocative question "Tell me where is fancy bred" from Merchant of Venice. Henry F. Gilbert gave it a lovely setting.

We loved the set of songs by Joseph Marx and found Ms. Petty's German easier to understand than her English.  This is not unique to her; we experience this lack of comprehension in nearly all English material, one of the reasons we have a bias against songs in English.

This difficulty was especially prominent in the set of songs by the Canadian composer John Greer.  Judging by Ms. Petty's facial expression and bodily gesture, the songs are exceedingly funny; when we have an hour to spare we intend to look them up on the internet the better to appreciate them.  Poet Paul Hiebert wrote the texts as one "Sarah Binks", the self-satisfied songstress of Saskatchewan who has mistranslated Heine and written songs about hog calling and a mock grief-sticken encomium to a dead calf, and so on.  The irony and satire of lieder came across even without understanding most of the words, owing to Ms. Petty's dramatic skills.

Charles T. Griffes set four texts by Oscar Wilde for which he provided lovely vocal lines and some highly interesting piano accompaniment, beautifully played by Ms. Sugiyama. Again, we will need to look up the texts.

The French of Francis Poulenc's War Songs was finely handled and somewhat more comprehensible.  "Le Disparu" was about a friend of the poet Desnos who died in a Nazi death camp.  The other two evocative songs were settings of poems by Louis Aragon and dealt with the chaos and dislocation of war.

It was the final set of songs by Joaquin Turina that thrilled us the most.  The vowels of Spanish are as delicious in the mouth as those of Italian and for once we could understand nearly every word.  The set began with the piano performance of "Dedicatoria" during which Ms. Petty joked that she could have a rest from singing.  We loved the irony of these songs so well captured by Ms. Petty; they are all about love and express a number of truisms that struck us powerfully. Poet Ramon de Campoamor had a lot to say indeed.

As an encore, the artist, newly made an aunt, sang Brahms' lullaby "Guten abend, gute nacht".  Those words could also describe our feelings about this superb recital.  We had a lovely evening and the good feelings would color our happy night.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


St. Paul's Chapel at Columbia University

In the impressive St. Paul's Chapel, with it's mosaic marble floor, intricate brickwork and stained glass windows, it would be easy to pretend that you were in Venice during the seicento.  And if you had ever attended a Salon/Sanctuary Concert you would have known that you would be leaving at the end of the recital "From Ghetto to Capella" with an uplifted spirit and an expanded knowledge of the chosen theme--the musical exchanges between the Catholic Church and the Jewish ghetto.  We like our entertainment with edification!

Founder and Artistic Director Jessica Gould is as impeccable in her scholarship as she is generous with her artistry.  Last night's program explored the theme and illustrated it with over an hour of carefully curated selections, sung by Ms. Gould, a soprano, and contralto Noa Frenkel.  The fine musicians comprised Grant Herreid who alternated between lute and theorbo, Pedro d'Aquino, equally skilled at the organ and the harpsichord, and James Waldo who played the viola da gamba.

We happily recall a program previously seen entitled "From Ghetto to Palazzo" which focused on the music of Salamone Rossi, a groundbreaking Jewish composer of the period who dared to set sacred Hebrew texts to polyphony.  Like most geniuses,  he was criticized for this advance; perhaps the rabbis found the music to sensual.  

But last night we heard some of Rossi's secular music created for the Gonzaga court in Mantua--a madrigal entitled "Cor mio" passionately sung by Ms. Gould and involving some gorgeous melismatic singing--and a second entitled "Ohime, che tanto amate", sung by Ms. Frenkel and ending on the third note of the scale. Both were accompanied by Mr. Herreid's theorbo.

The influence of the ghetto on music by Venetian composers was even more notable.  In 17th c. Venice, there existed a melting pot of cultures with Jewish, Turkish and Armenian ghettos coexisting in a relatively liberal environment.  Just listen to the Middle-Eastern melodies in the music of Francesco Durante, particularly "Vergin tutto amor"--the phrygian mode seemingly snatched right out of a Hebrew prayer. Ms. Gould sang this with great depth of feeling and a wonderful trill at the end.

We are big fans of Barbara Strozzi, a singularly successful female composer of the time.  She was represented in yesterday's program by the sacred "Salve Regina" and the secular "Lagrime mie", a lover's lament.  Ms. Gould mastered the heavily decorated vocal line in the motet and brought out the Byzantine melody of the opening.  In the lengthy lament of a lover for his immured ladylove, Ms. Frenkel used a variety of dynamics and pacing to provide variety.

This seems to be our week to enjoy duets and we loved hearing Ms. Gould's and Ms. Frenkel's voices joined in harmony in Benedetto Marcello's "O immaculata" accompanied by all three instrumentalists. They also joined forces for the beautiful "Langue, geme" by Handel in which the sad opening stanza yields to a lively and joyful second one--a highlight of the recital.

The instrumentalists also had a chance to shine on their own with a Sonata di Basso by Grigorio Strozzi. We can find no evidence that he and Barbara were related by blood or marriage although their birthdates are rather close.

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


Gulzhan Mustakhim and Ruslan Baimurzin

If the Republic of Kazakhstan exported the artists of their Astana Opera on an international tour to raise awareness of their progressive nation, they certainly succeeded.  So entranced were we by their program at Carnegie Hall that we have spent the remainder of the night reading about the country online.  

They are the ninth largest country in the world and the largest landlocked country.  They declared their independence from the dissolving USSR in 1991 and moved their capitol to Astana in 1998.  Their population is nearly 18 million people with Islamic Kazakhs outnumbering Russian Orthodox folk by about 3 to 1.  Religious freedom and democracy are practiced and there are many other ethnic groups and religions also represented.

What is important to us music lovers is the fact that the country supports musical education and performance.  A fabulous new opera house holding 1250 people was built and Ildar Abdrazakov sang the lead in Verdi's Attila for the opening, with Maestro Valery Gergiev (Principal Guest Conductor) on the podium.  The orchestra is a young one with most members between 25 and 30 years of age.

Now how does all this translate into last night's performance?  The program bridged East and West, traditional and modern.  What we most appreciated was the opportunity to hear their traditional native music.  Depicted above are two instrumentalists in exotic native costume-- Ms. Mustakhim making some gorgeous sounds on the kobyz, which appeared to have but two strings played with a bow and Mr. Baimurzin plucking the two strings of the dombrya.  They played Tugan zher, which means Motherland.

The exceptional chorus delighted us with a medley of folk songs, conducted by Erzhan Dautov.  Two exotically costumed singers performed a spirited duet from Birzhan and Sara by M. Tolebaev (about whom we can learn nothing, except that he was a "People's Artist" worthy of a bronze monument); soprano Aigul Niyazova and tenor Medet Chotabayev were accompanied by the enormous symphony orchestra, conducted by Abzal Mukhitdinov.

The orchestra opened the program with a scherzo entitled Celebration by Rakhmadiev in which we could hear the hooves of galloping horses.  They also performed a work by Zhubanov-Khamidi along with that wonderful choir.

Although we yearned to hear more of the native music, the European part of the program was also satisfying.  Dramatic soprano Zhupar Gabdullina sang "Santo di patria" from Verdi's Attila with ringing high notes and a fearless attack of the fioritura.  Baritone Sundet Baygozhin performed "Largo al factotum" from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia; he was expecially good with the tongue-twistingly rapid verse.

The barcarolle "Belle Nuit" from Offenbach's Contes d'Hoffman was sung in thrilling harmony by soprano Aigul Niyazova and mezzo Dina Khamzina.  Soprano Alfiya Karimova performed Bernstein's "Glitter and Be Gay" from Candide with a convincing sense of drama and impressive coloratura.  She sang in British English which seemed a bit strange.

Violinist Erzhan Kulibaev did a fine job with Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D Major; we especially enjoyed hearing his solo cadenzas with their runs, arpeggios and trills.

But, for us, the highlight of the evening was a stirring performance of Polovtsian Dances from Borodin's Prince Igor.  Instead of the field of red flowers at The Metropolitan Opera, we had a stage full of singers in red.  There was such depth in the choral singing that we were strangely moved almost to tears.  The evening ended with much beating of drums and clashing of cymbals.  

We have had only a taste of the music of Kazakhstan but our appetite is whetted for more.  Clearly the progressive intentions of this ancient culture emerging as a modern nature is reflected in the cultural diversity of their musical programming.  No wonder the opening work was entitled "Celebration"!

(c) meche kroop

Monday, October 27, 2014


The glorious assemblage of prizewinners of the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation's 2014 International Vocal Competition (photo by Ania Farysej)

Although lost to this world,  Signora Albanese might have been smiling down at the proceedings onstage at the Rose Hall of Lincoln Center.  The 40th anniversary of the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation's inception reminds us all of the long term generosity that has provided awards, scholarships, study grants and master classes to young artists.  With Brian Kellow as host, tributes were paid and honors bestowed. New York's opera lovers packed the house to hear this year's crop of winners.

Additionally, winners from prior years returned for their Distinguished Artists Achievement Awards and to share their artistry, serving to demonstrate how wisely the foundation bestows its gifts.  Lyric soprano Lisette Oropesa, a winner from 2007, opened the program with "Prendi!" from Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore, an aria as lovely as the artist; she has a pleasing vibrato and effortless fioritura.  We enjoyed the final high note with its precipitous but gentle descent.

Tenor John Matz, a 2001 winner, sang "Lamento di Federico" from Francesco Cilea's L'Arlesiana; he exhibited a powerful tenor that is also capable of tenderness. Dramatic soprano Lori Phillips, a 1995 winner, sang Minnie's Act I aria from Puccini's La Fanciulla del West.  We cannot believe how much time has passed since we thrilled to her singing with her sister Mary at a Marilyn Horne recital.  Time has only enhanced her luster.  

The above guest artists were accompanied on the piano by Arlene Shrut and Jonathan C. Kelly.  For the 2014 award winners, Maestra Eve Queler mounted the podium and wielded her formidable baton, bringing the Opera Orchestra of New York to a peak of performance.

We have heard most of these young award-winning singers before, either at other competitions or as recitalists, and we have nothing but good things to say about the foundation's choices.  It must have been challenging for the judges to put any one ahead of the others.  We are relieved not to have been put in that position.

First we heard mezzo Ewa Plonka Nino joining forces with baritone Jarrett Ott for the delightful duet from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia--"Dunque io son".  Ms. Nino made a captivating Rosina and Mr. Ott was splendid as the wily Figaro with flexibility of voice and body.  We liked the variety of tempi and enjoyed a few giggles when Rosina produced her note for "Lindoro" from her bosom, thus astonishing and outdoing Figaro's craftiness.

We do love duets and were pleased to hear the beautiful Alexandra Schenck make comedy and harmony with the firm-voiced baritone Ricardo Rivera in the "Papageno-Papagena Duet" from Die Zauberflote.  We think Mozart would have been as pleased as we were to hear it.  

Another Mozart duet, "La ci darem la mano" from Don Giovanni, was given a fine performance by soprano Marina Costa-Jackson as an all-too-willing Zerlina, and the fine baritone Jared Bybee (whom we admired so much last summer at the Santa Fe Opera) as the Don himself.  

And yet another smashing duet that we all know and love, "Au fond du temple saint" from Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles, was performed by tenor Mingjie Lei and baritone Brian Vu, both of whom sang with clarity and lightness.  The appropriately named Grace Paradise contributed a great deal as harpist and the gorgeously harmonized duet ended in a flourish of winds.

Baritone Kidon Choi exhibited maturity and a sense of authority in his performance of "Si Puo? Si Puo" from Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci.  His storytelling skill matched his vocal beauty.  The contribution from the violins was notable.

The second half of the generous program brought on tenor Paul Han for "Fantaisie aux divins mensonges" from Delibes' Lakme.  He exhibited a marvelous messa di voce and fine Gallic subtlety.  We swooned over his sustained pianissimo.

Capturing our admiration for yet another stellar performance was mezzo Shirin Eskandani who performed "Non piu mesta" from Rossini's La Cenerentola with sparkle to spare and enough vocal fireworks for any Rossini fan to cherish. With such a rich voice and flexibility throughout her range, she has made the role her own.  It didn't hurt that she appeared in a glamorous sequined gown that seemed to have been bestowed by her fairy godmother.

Octavian's first act aria "Wie du warst" from Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier was given a finely polished and passionate performance by mezzo Virginie Verrez, expressing all the wild abandon of the teenage boy she portrayed.  In spite of her feminine beauty, she managed to convince us totally with her excellent phrasing and vocal coloring.

We are always delighted to hear soprano Courtney Johnson who sang Liù's aria "Signore, ascolta" from Puccini's Turandot; Liù is such a wonderful character and Ms. Johnson's angelic voice limned her innocence to the point of breaking our heart.

Baritone Alexey Lavrov used his powerful voice in a well-modulated performance of "Questo amor vergogna mia" from Edgar, Puccini's second opera, one which he later repudiated; he sang Frank's aria with authority,control, and fine phrasing.

We got to hear that lovely harp once more in "Stridono lassu" from Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci, finely sung by Rebecca Pedersen, well on her way to becoming a dramatic soprano of distinction.  Her top notes just rang out and filled up the hall and the vibrato was just right.

We would expect nothing less from bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green who wowed the crowd with the buffo aria "Solche hergelaufne Laffen" from Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail.  Not only was it perfectly sung but Mr. Green captured all the angry/funny business, a noteworthy performance.

Tenor Benjamin Bliss capped the prizewinners' portion of the afternoon and captured the hearts of the audience with a flawless performance of "Una furtiva lagrima" from Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore, using his sweet tone to illuminate the character of the hapless Nemorino who finally realizes he has gained Adina's love.

Maestra Queler and her musicians packed up and left with the final performances by the Distinguished Artists to be accompanied by piano. Roberto Iarussi, a 1999 winner used his impressive Italianate tenor in the moving aria "Non piangere, Liù" from Puccini's Turandot.  The program ended with 2008 winner Jan Cornelius, whose lovely lyric soprano was perfect for "In quelle trine morbide" from Puccini's Manon Lescaut, in which Manon confides in Lescaut her disillusionment with her life of wealth.  Ms. Cornelius has great ease in her top notes and a marvelous messa di voce.  We heard an enviable pianissimo, evidence of perfect breath control.

It was a splendid afternoon and we have the highest expectations of all the gifted young artists we heard.  We long to hear them again soon and wish them the very best in their careers.

© meche kroop

Saturday, October 25, 2014


Elza van den Heever (photo by Dario Acosta)

Apparently, the 19th c. came late to South Africa but better late than never!  Last night at the acoustically amazing Weill Recital Hall we were fortunate to hear a set of songs by South African composers--songs about nature, mainly--contrasting the wonders of the veld with the tumult of the big city. The program was part of Carnegie Hall's UBUNTU--a celebration of South Africa. The songs were sung by the lovely soprano Elza van den Heever whom we much admired and reviewed when she sang Elisabetta in Donizetti's Maria Stuarda at The Metropolitan Opera.  The songs are gloriously melodic and stood up well next to the lieder by Brahms and Schumann that were also on the program.

Ms. van den Heever, in her recital debut, held the stage with a great deal of poise and has a bright penetrating soprano that seems comfortable in the high lying tessitura of the Händel arias with which she opened the program.  Both "Mio caro bene" from Rodelinda and "Ah! crudel, il pianto mio" from Rinaldo offered her the opportunity to show the flexibility of her instrument in the lavish fioritura.  Likewise she moved easily from one emotion to another in the various sections of each aria.  Piano partner Vlad Iftinca similarly moved easily from one mood to another.

But it was in Schumann's Frauenliebe und -leben that we were able to truly appreciate Mr. Iftinca's gifts, particularly in the postlude when the piano recalls the first meeting the young woman has with her husband to be.  Many women have protested Adelbert von Chamisso's poetry in which a woman has no life beyond childbearing and marriage; when her husband dies, her life is over.  But of course we recognize that this is an early 19th c. viewpoint and we don't care.  We love the music and hope that the singer will convey the woman's progress from adolescence to mature adulthood.

Ms. van den Heever accomplished this reasonably well, although the wonder of the young woman in "Seit ich ihn gesehen" did not come through as well as we'd hoped, perhaps due to the slow tempo.  Things picked up and by the time she got to the girl's wedding day in "Helft mir, ihr Schwestern" this rather reserved artist became excited and expressive, using her entire body, not just her voice and face.  It is clearly a matter of taste, but we prefer our singers to involve their bodies.  This expressive involvement was seen again in "An meinem Herzen, an meiner Brust" in which the young woman expresses the joys of motherhood.  Likewise, her grief over her husband's death was quite moving in the final song "Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan".  And then came that stunning postlude!

The set of Fauré songs were beautifully sung.  Ms. van den Heever's quietness served her well here and these delicate gems were sung with lovely long lean lines, as French should be sung and rarely is.  We were particularly fond of the lilting "Les roses d'Ispahan" and "Clair de lune", in which Mr. Iftinca played the most gorgeous prelude.

A set of Brahms' songs was enjoyable, with more involvement of her personality.  We loved "O komme, holde Sommernacht" and the bittersweet "Die Mainacht".  

The set of songs in Afrikaans involved three composers: Stephanus Le Roux Marais, John K. Pescod, and Petrus Johannes Lemmer--all born in 1896 by strange coincidence. Perhaps in that year the planets were perfectly aligned for great music. We only wish that songs like these were being composed today.

We would like to see Ms. van den Heever let go a bit more so that the audience can share her involvement with the material. There is one other issue that hampers this lovely artist who has so much to offer. There was a problem with dynamic control. Her pianissimi were barely audible, her forte more like fortissimo; a smoother transition in dynamics would be welcome.

As encore, we heard Charles Ives' Memories--the pleasant memory of the opera house was given appropriate excitement and the nostalgic tune given appropriate melancholy.  A second encore was yet another song in Afrikaans, the name of which we did not hear.  

© meche kroop

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Steven Blier and Friends at Henry's Restaurant for NYFOS After Hours

Joining a packed house, we joyfully shared in the celebration of the 25th Anniversary of Henry's Restaurant on the Upper West Side. The beloved Steven Blier has been presenting cabarets at that venue for the past five years, curating an always astonishing collection of songs performed with what he accurately calls a "torrent of talent", mainly chosen from among the singers he has coached. Like any torrent, this one swept us along.

For his 27th cabaret, there was no program.  Mr. Blier, whose skills as a raconteur rival his pianistic artistry, narrated from the piano. The introduction, a charming ditty by Rodgers and Hart called "Sing For Your Supper" was performed by three women we had not heard before--soprano Meredith Lustig and mezzos Catherine Hancock and Carla Jablonski.  We always expect tenor Miles Mykkanen to do the honors but the three lovely ladies put their own individual spin on the song with some captivating girl-group harmonies.

Happily, we got to hear Mr. Mykkanen later in the program as he put his particular spin on  "I'm Not Getting Married Today" from Sondheim's Company.  It is Mr. M.'s particular gift that he can sing both male and female parts with equivalent pizazz. He also performed "The Only Music That Makes Me Dance" from Jules Styne's Funny Girl.

Tenor Ben Bliss and baritone Theo Hoffman (two singers we always love to hear) were hilarious in "Everyone Eats When They Come to My House", a Cab Calloway song that was new to us.  Its rhymes are too clever by half and exactly the sort of thing for which the English language was made.  We wanted to hear it again right on the spot!

The amazing soprano Julia Bullock, who could keep us raptly involved if she sang the phone book, sang Irving Berlin's "Harlem On My Mind" with a sensibility of the period, evoking feelings of nostalgia for the places one leaves behind.  Mr. Blier gave us some juicy jazz riffs on the piano.

Terrific tenor Theo Lebow sang a Scandinavian song about the sea.  We hope we can be forgiven for not detecting whether it was Swedish, Norwegian or Danish; whatever it was, it was a strong masculine song and he sang it beautifully.

Mr. Bliss made "Maria" from Bernstein's West Side Story new again and spun out the final note with great finesse.  Baritone Jonathan Estabrooks was delightful in "A Rhyme for Angela" from the Kurt Weill/Ira Gershwin show The Firebrand of Florence.  If you never saw the show, it's worth looking up the plot which is about the escapades of Benvenuto Cellini. Berlioz' opera was not that titillating.

Not every song was modern.  Ms. Lustig, Mr. Lebow and Mr. Estabrook joined forces for an a capella Renaissance song purportedly composed by Henry VIII!  This being an evening of celebrating Henry, why not?

The program ended with Mr. Estabrook singing Bob Merrell's "Henry, Sweet Henry" with lyrics customized for the happy occasion.  The eponymous Henry of 105th and Broadway was a most gracious and welcoming host for the evening's festivities.  With good food, good drink, good music and such an outpouring of love, the evening was a total success.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, October 18, 2014


Luca Pisaroni (photo by Marco Borggreve)
For us, an evening of 19th c. lieder might be our very favorite vocal event.   To have two truly incomparable artists onstage together in the not-too-large Zankel Hall was beyond our wildest dreams.  Bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni, known to us before last night as a world-class opera singer, gave every evidence of being a world-class recitalist; we were thrilled to see a new aspect of his artistry.  Likewise, we have never attended a solo recital in which Wolfram Rieger has been the collaborative pianist.  The teamwork of the two artists resulted in an evening that set the bar for vocal recitals.  We were transfixed.

Mr. Pisaroni is in perfect control of his instrument and chose wisely in his selections.  For many of the earlier songs in the program, he used the lighter baritonal qualities of his voice, enabling the flexibility necessary for the ornamentation;  he revealed the majesty and depth of the bass range later on when the songs called for it. 

He has impeccable diction, making every word audible and comprehensible--very valuable since no titles were projected and we could not tear our eyes away to read the translations in the program. His phrasing always made sense and his ability to change the feeling tone from song to song, and even within a song, allowed us to feel the feelings along with him.

Mr. Rieger is a piano partner any singer would be fortunate to work with.  In last night's performance, he seemed to breathe along with Mr. Pisaroni while always bringing out the emotional subtext of the song.  He has a light touch that always supports but never overwhelms the vocal line.  The ease with which his fingers fly over the keys is nothing short of astonishing.

We agree with the common belief that Schubert was the greatest composer of lieder, not just in his own century but for all time; his work has never been matched.  We only wish that contemporary composers could learn from his vocal lines; from the way he wrote for the voice, one would think his background was that of a singer.  We mention this because holding this belief does not take away from the genius of Mozart, who tossed off his songs as gifts; nor of Beethoven or Mendelssohn.  They were titans, all of them.

Most of the songs on the program were familiar to us so it pleased us to just sit back and allow Mr. Pisaroni's communicative skills to invite us into the world of each song.  From the set of Mozart songs, we enjoyed the delicacy of "Das Veilchen", the lovely light piano figurations in "Komm, liebe Zither" and the charm of "An Chloë".  But when Mr. Pisaroni sang the philosophical "Abendempfindung" we were moved to tears, perhaps not flooding down our cheeks but surely moistening our eyes as we contemplated the message of the transitory nature of life.

In the set of songs by Beethoven, we particularly enjoyed the piano accompaniment and the gentle melody of "Zärtliche Liebe".  Mr. Pisaroni brought out the humor in "Der Kuss" which is one of our very favorite songs. 

He put particular color into the set of songs by Mendelssohn.  The rhythmic motion of the galloping elves in "Neue Liebe" painted quite a picture in our mind's eye.  The familiar "Auf Flügeln des Gesanges" was given a particular lyrical spin.

The second half of the program was Schubert, all Schubert and nothing but Schubert.  (You won't hear any complaints from a woman who heard almost all of Schubert's 600 plus songs at the hands of Lachlan Glen and Jonathan Ware.)  It was in the first grouping, all settings of texts by Heinrich Heine, that we heard the depths of Mr. Pisaroni's vocal register and the depths of  Schubert's despair as well as Heine's irony and bitterness. "Der Atlas" is a grim song and "Ihr Bild" expresses intense loss.  What a relief it was to hear the cheerful barcarole "Das Fischermädchen".  In "Die Stadt" the diminished arpeggios in the piano lent a mysterious air.  "Der Doppelgänger" was given a solemn reading and a sense of eeriness.

The group of songs composed to texts by Goethe included the four-voiced highly dramatic "Erlkonig".  The narrator is neutral, the father's voice is lower and attempts to reassure the sick child and the erlkonig's voice is high and seductive.  Mr. Pisaroni nailed three of them especially the oily erlkonig, but the frightened child sounded too deep and forceful for our taste.    "Grenzen der Menschheit" gave the singer an opportunity to exercise the very bottom of his register and the sweetness of "Ganymed" with its shift from major to minor mode was a lovely contrast.

It was a most generous program and we were surprised and delighted that Mr. Pisaroni gave us two encores.  He charmingly announced that he was tired of singing in German and did two songs in Italian, one by Beethoven, "L'amante impaziente", and one by Schubert, "Il modo di prender moglie".  They were lovely songs but at this point I would have listened raptly if he were singing the phone book.

What a completely satisfying evening!  The next time this duo gives a recital, guess who will be first in line.

ⓒ meche kroop


Raymond Wong and William Goforth
Yesterday we attended Juilliard's 168th Liederabend.  Have we attended all 168 of them?  No, but we wish we had because they are monthly treats we heartily anticipate.  If you attend one of them, you will likely become a regular, such is the high quality of the performances.  To make the deal even sweeter, there is absolutely no charge whatsoever!  Even when we have an event to review at 7:30 (as we did Thursday night), we find it worth the effort to dash up to 65th St. for a delightful hour discovering the stars of tomorrow.  Then you can say "I heard him/her when he/she was a student" and be complimented for your perspicacity.

Yesterday's recital was the first of the year and we heard four voice students of great promise, all of whom we would love to hear again.  The four collaborative pianists were of equally impressive skill.  First on the program was William Goforth,  whose sweet tenor we recall fondly from last year.  Accompanied by Raymond Wong, the pair performed Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte, an outpouring of German Romanticism but still carrying over much from the Classical Period.  These songs of romantic longing are performed without a break, relying on chord progressions to weave them together.  Mr. Goforth sang them in fine German with  admirable word coloring, possibly due to having translated the text himself.  

Mr. Goforth seemed to "taste" each word and we understand because we too love the taste of German in our mouth.  He increased the dramatic impact with dynamic variety.  As the cycle progressed his involvement grew and we felt drawn into the world of nature.  Mr. Wong contributed a great deal by emphasizing the changes to minor and back to major.  His light fingers created the sounds of nature--twittering birds and babbling brooks.  The three descending notes from "Wo die Berge so blau" have haunted us all night.

Soprano Onadek Winan has a nice ring to her voice, quite suitable for Richard Strauss.  She performed three songs from his Mädchenblumen and captured nicely the various moods of the flowers, representative of women-- the modest cornflower in "Kornblumen", the fiery poppy of "Mohnblumen" and the soulful ivy of "Epheu".  Mr. Strauss must have had a fine time limning the characterizations of all the various types of women he came across.  We confess to enjoying the fiery poppy the most.  Edward Kim was Ms. Winan's piano partner and fell right in with the three moods.

Marguerite Jones has a nice-sized mezzo and a facility for story telling which she used to play the role of Anzoleta encouraging her lover Momolo in a gondola race.  Rossini's La regatta veneziana requires a lot of intense excitement on the part of both pianist and singer.  Ms. Jones' personality carried the day; she sang in the Venetian dialect, as is customarily done.  Again, performing her own translations probably contributed to her success.  She produced three distinct moods in the three songs of the cycle.  We loved the rocking barcarole rhythm in HoJae Lee's piano.

Baritone Kurt Kanazawa, also remembered from last year, performed a cycle of songs by Guy Ropartz (a contemporary of Strauss) entitled Quatre poems d'apres L'Intermezzo d'Henri Heine.  (We guess that's what they call Heinrich in France!)  The Prelude and Postlude gave pianist  Kristen Doering a chance to shine and the four songs between were of unrelieved romantic despair; it was up to Mr. Kanazawa to provide some variety which he did by varying the dynamics and exploring the depth of feeling in the text.  The final song had the rhythm of a funeral march.  We know little of the composer and were not particularly impressed with the cycle.

We hoped to return to a more cheerful aspect with Kara Sainz and William Kelley performing Manuel de Falla's lively cycle Siete Canciones populares Espanolas but it was time to leave for Carnegie Hall to hear Luca Pisaroni.  So, we apologize to Ms. Sainz; we heard her last year and are sure she did a fine job.

© meche kroop

Thursday, October 16, 2014


Eric Sedgwick, Michael Kelly, Mary Mackenzie, and Samantha Malk

We have reviewed baritone Michael Kelly's performances on many prior occasions and have always been impressed, not only by the satiny quality of his voice but by his perfect diction and his ability to tell a story in a meaningful way.  This was the first time we have been witness to his talents as an impresario or producer.  Last night he curated an evening of songs at The National Opera Center. The photographer Matthew Morrocco, inspired by the songs, contributed photographs that were projected above the singers.  The songs in the program were in turn inspired by and organized according to the Chinese zodiac, involving not just animals but elements of nature.  The program notes were fascinating.

Mr. Kelly was joined by two outstanding young women whose vocal and dramatic skills matched his own. Mary Mackenzie has that bright shiny soprano that we love to listen to and Samantha Malk's mellow mezzo rested easily on the ear.  Both of them demonstrated the same superb diction as Mr. Kelly, making sense of works we have heard before and not cared much about.  Piano partner Eric Sedgwick showed a sensitivity of touch and great versatility, working equally well with the modern and the traditional.

As readers already know, our taste runs toward the traditional so it is no accident that our favorite songs fell into that category.  Ms. Mackenzie and Ms. Malk performed a marvelous duet by Brahms entitled "Jägerlied", exchanging question and answer.  Mr. Kelly's delivery of the fatalistic "Der Tannenbaum" by Richard Wagner was chilling and emotional.  Neither did he stint on the menace of Schoenberg's "Warnung"; it made us shiver.

Fauré's "Eau Vivante", a tribute to a spring, was given a beautifully bright and clear delivery by Ms. Mackenzie.  We understood every word of her French, even though the range was rather high.  She also excelled in Poulenc's "Tu vois le feu du soir", making good use of enough dynamic variety to make the several verses interesting.  

We enjoyed Ms. Malk the most in Brahms' "Von Ewiger Liebe", a song that always touches our heart.  She is a born storyteller and drew us in.  In terms of storytelling, however, nothing matched Mr. Kelly's dramatic telling of Hugo Wolf's "Der Feuerreiter", a song filled with horror.

In the category of more modern pieces, we liked Copland's "The Little Horses" in which Ms. Mackenzie made vivid contrast between the gentle soothing verses and the lively description of the types of horses the child would wake to have.  We like English best when good use is made of the clever rhymes it allows (as in Gilbert and Sullivan) so it is no surprise that we loved the humorous "Judged by the Company One Keeps" by David Sisco--given a sensational delivery by Mr. Kelly.

Of all the Britten songs on the program, we far preferred "A Charm", a setting of a 17th c. text by Thomas Randolf.  Ms. Malk gave it an intense delivery and captured the irony of trying to terrify a child into sleep!  But we also were quite taken with Britten's "Silver" because of the lovely poetry by de la Mare; Mr. Kelly made generous use of word coloring to enhance the effect. 

The program tied each song to an animal and/or an element, surely an unusual way to organize a program.  It had the effect of making us search our own Chinese zodiac sign on Google.  We like Western astrology better!  Although the concept of music inspiring photography, we did not succeed at grasping the connections and preferred to focus on the glorious voices.

© meche kroop 


The cast of Martinú's Comedy on the Bridge at Gotham Chamber Opera
(photo by Richard Termine)

We cannot think of another company who could have brought out all the crazy humor and satire in Czech composer Bohuslav Martinú's twin bill.  We didn't know opera could be so much fun.  But opening night of Gotham Chamber Opera's double bill at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater of John Jay College was just plain down and dirty FUN.  But it would be a mistake to shortchange the substantial underpinnings.  Sometimes the best way to learn is with humor, not with preaching.   We laughed.  We learned.

In Alexander Bis we are transported to a highly stylized Parisian home populated by absurd characters and surreal situations; the acting is equally stylized in a cartoonish manner.  An adorable maid (mezzo Cassandra Zoé Velasco) is dusting everything in sight with a shocking pink feather duster, the only spot of color on the highly stylized black and white set.  A portrait of a man, portrayed by bass Joseph Beutel, hangs on the wall; he comments on the action and interacts with the singers.

Alexander, the man of the house, (baritone Jarrett Ott) is testing his wife's fidelity by shaving his beard and pretending to be his Texas cousin.  His wife Armande (soprano Jenna Siladie) sees through the disguise but is wildly attracted to him.  At night in his arms she has a nightmare involving murder and some devils prancing around in red unitards with pink tutus.  (I kid you not!)

This good faithful woman, having had a taste of "infidelity" is now tempted by an athletic man she had previously rejected. An audience favorite, Oscar (tenor Jason Slayden) arrives on a bicycle in a wild and colorful costume.  Poor Alexander in his jealousy has created what he feared.  We got it.  We loved it.  We wanted to see it again!

The second one-act opera on the program was Comedy on the Bridge.  In this opera, the characters are not as absurd but the situation is.  Poor Popelka (the versatile Ms. Siladie, well remembered and reviewed by us last summer in Santa Fe) is crossing a bridge from a town which she has visited to find her soldier brother in an enemy camp.  Her "safe conduct" gets her past the sentry of the enemy town but the "friendly" sentry at the entrance to her own town will not admit her.  He is decidedly unfriendly!  So the poor girl is stuck on the bridge in a "no man's land". The two sentries are amusingly costumed in identical costumes of black and white, except the colors are reversed--even the beards.

Soon she is joined by the lecherous married hops farmer Bedroň (Mr. Beutel)  who imposes himself on her.  He is also stranded in "no man's land".  Next comes her fiancé Sykoš (Mr. Ott) who, convinced she has cheated on him, breaks off their engagement.  Next to arrive is Eva, Bedroň's wife (mezzo Abigail Fischer), who is ready to divorce her husband for philandering.  Finally the school master Učitel (Mr. Slayden) arrives, stumped by a riddle.  The running joke through the opera is the rigidity and close-mindedness we observe in the sentries, small people given great powers.  

When bullets start flying with great orchestral impact, the five trapped townspeople make peace with one another and by the end of the opera there is a happy ending.  We cannot help but think about the ridiculous aspects of war and of bureaucracy.  But we are thinking this with a big smile on our face.

The operas were wisely cast with talented singers who threw themselves into their roles with appropriate style, guided by James Marvel's impressive direction.  Every bit of stage business was motivated and the interaction between the characters, while absurd, made sense within the context of the absurd situation into which they were thrust.  Alexandre Bis was performed in French and the diction of the lower male voices surpassed that of the high female voices.  (That seems to always be the case).  The second opera was performed in Czech which delighted us no end.  The words, although not understood by this non-Czech-speaker, lined up perfectly with the music and delighted the ear.

And what about this music, written between the two World Wars?  We loved it!  It was consistently accessible and varied in tone, unlike so much music of the 1920's and 1930's.  To call it pleasing and tuneful is not to damn with faint praise.  The tone of the music always seemed to highlight the character of the singer and the situation. We particularly liked the emphatic battle music and the tender music for Popelka.  Neal Goren's conducting left nothing to be desired and the orchestra performed with verve and pizazz.

Production values were impressive all around.  We couldn't imagine a better set design than that of Cameron Anderson with effective lighting by Clifton Taylor.  Fabio Toblini's costumes were marvelously designed and always suited the characterizations--witness Popelka's charming peasant dress and Oscar's wildly bizarre costume.

How exciting to discover a composer largely neglected in the United States but probably given a great deal of attention in Czechoslovakia.  We wouldn't hesitate a minute to see more of his works.

© meche kroop

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Kamal Khan and Pretty Yendy

Every now and then a singer comes onstage and shows such a wealth of positive attributes that we sit up straighter and take notice.  Our eyes rested on Pretty Yendy's beautiful face and form, her stylish gowns and her easy stage presence.  Our ears perked up as witnesses to her thrilling instrument, superlative technique and innate musicality.  Furthermore, she exuded warmth and a good-natured spirit.  It was all there and we delighted in recognizing a new star in the celestial realm of opera.

Ms. Yendy's New York debut recital was part of a celebration of South African culture--UBUNTU, taking place at Carnegie Hall.  This wondergirl was born in South Africa and, interestingly enough, her unfailingly sensitive piano partner, Kamal Khan, also has South African ties --Cape Town Opera and Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra.  The two of them had such an impressive onstage partnership it was as if they were telepathically connected.

This lovely soprano has superlative coloratura technique, making her a natural for the bel canto selections with which she opened the program.  She made the four songs her own with judicious use of rubato, fine vibrato, flexibility in her shifts from legato to staccato, and a preternaturally smooth portamento.  We heard Rossini's "La promessa", Bellini's "Vanne, o rosa fortunata" (both settings of texts by Metastasio) and two selections by Donizetti.  We particularly enjoyed the barcarolle-like fantasy "Me voglio fa 'na casa".

Next we heard some lovely songs written by Debussy when he was about 20 years old, inspired by an older married lover--his muse.  Can one possibly listen to "Mandoline", text by Paul Verlaine, without thinking of a Fragonard painting?  The vocal fireworks we heard in "O beau pays de la Touraine" from Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots cemented our opinion of the artist's coloratura skills.  Embellishments simply poured out of her effortlessly. Our wish for Ms. Yendy is for her French diction to rise to the level of her Italian. There were no titles and the words might have been more clearly articulated.

Last week we heard Jennifer Johnson Cano (a mezzo) sing Liszt's "Pace non trovo"; last night Ms. Yendy sang it with excellent messa di voce and some high notes that would shatter crystal.  Petrarch's sonnets inspired Liszt and Liszt's music inspired Ms. Yendy and Mr. Kahn to a dramatically thrilling performance.

We could scarcely believe our good fortune to hear more zarzuela right on the heels of yesterday's event in Queens.  That patter song "La tarántula" from Giménez' La Tempranica was well done but it was "Me llaman la primorosa" from El barbero de Sevilla that we wanted to hear again and again.   

The program ended with the entire sleepwalking scene from Bellini's La Sonnambula; this gave Ms. Yendy an opportunity to show the varying moods of Amina, each mood with its own vocal challenges.  The audience was over the moon and Ms. Yendy rewarded us with no less than three stunning encores.

The first was "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, an endearing aria if ever there was one.  The second was an Ubuntu Celebration Song; we may not have understood the words but the warm feelings of fellowship came across the footlights.  And finally, because the audience would not let her go, she sang her final encore-"I Want to Be a Prima Donna", from Victor Herbert's 1911 operetta The Enchantress.  She wants it?  She gets it! She deserves it.

© meche kroop

Monday, October 13, 2014


Maestro Jorge Parodi and cast of Zarzuela

This was indeed a weekend of discovery.  Yesterday we wrote about the operas of Carlos Gomes deserving more recognition and now we are writing about the thrill of discovering more about zarzuela than we did before.  Zarzuela was Spain's 19th c. answer to Italian opera (although it continued onto the shores of El Nuevo Mondo and into the 20th century) and shares a number of the features that make Italian opera so exciting--interesting stories about love, passion, betrayal and loyalty, supported by lavishly melodic music.  The music is accessible and sounds familiar, even when it is not.

The Spanish Lyric Theatre brought an afternoon of zarzuela to the Centro Español de Queens; judging by the appreciative applause the largely Spanish speaking audience enjoyed themselves as much as we did.

Eighteen members of the flexible Metamorphosis Chamber Orquestra provided the music and they were in the good hands (no, the great hands) of star conductor Jorge Parodi who needs no baton.  He conducts with his dancing hands and his entire body.  He kept the orchestra perfectly balanced with well-articulated winds emerging over a lovely carpet of strings.

The stage design was simple but effective--a cocktail lounge in which men and women came together, interacted and shared their stories. The singers, without exception, threw heart and soul into the passionate arias, duets and ensembles.  The words we heard sung most often were "mi amor", mi vida", "tus ojos" and "mi corazon".  You get the picture!  What emotions other than love require us to burst into song!

One of our favorite sopranos, Amaia Arberas, served as Program Director and deserves accolades for putting together a program drawn from several works by different composers and uniting them into a cohesive whole.  Perhaps our favorite work would be Barbieri's El Barberillo de Lavapies which shares just a little with Rossini's Barber of Seville--only the contrast between the working folk and the aristocracy.  

In "The Entrada de Lamparilla" tenor Antón Armendariz (who also served effectively as Stage Director) used his pure sweet tenor and excellent dramatic skills to limn a character of outsize personality. When Ms. Arberas joined him for the duet of Paloma and Lamparilla it was clear that two enormously skilled artists were onstage together in a number that permitted delightful interaction.

Ms. Arberas also excelled in the rapid patter of "Zapateando" from Gimenez' La Tempranica. and the flamenco-influenced "Las Carceleras" from Chapi's Las Hijas del Zebedeo; accompanying her on the piano was the superb Ainhoa Urkijo.

Her duet with soprano Virginia Herrera "Niñas que Venden Flores" from Barbieri's Los Diamantes de la Corona was filled with high spirits; the two sopranos harmonized magnificently.  Ms. Herrera also excelled in the aria of suffering "Romanza" from Lecuona's María la O, accompanied by Ms. Urkijo's lilting piano.

There were only two works on the program that we have heard many times before.  Lara's "Granada" was well rendered by tenor Hamid Rodriguez as was the bitter "No Puede Ser" from Zorozabal's La Tabernera del Puerto.

Bass Eliam Ramos showed dramatic depth in "Despierta Negro" from the same zarzuela and, accompanied by Ms. Urkijo, delivered a heartfelt rendition of "Sasibil" from Guridi's El Caserío .

Tenor Cesar Delgado joined Ms. Amaia for "Este Pañuelito Blanco" from Torroba's La Chulapona, which had a fine clarinet introduction; he has a real inclination for Torroba as he demonstrated in his fine solo "De Este Apacible Rincón de Madrid" from Luisa Fernanda.

Rafael Abolafia played the part of the bartender with great style and narrated the action.

Other zarzuelas on the program included Arrieta's Marina, Caballero's El Duo de la Africana ( a humorous one), and Serrano's La Alegría del Batallon.

High on our wish list would be an opportunity to see one or more of these works performed in its entirety, staged and costumed.  Is anyone else interested?

© meche kroop

Sunday, October 12, 2014


Maestro Harold Rosenbaum, Adam Cromer, Elena Heimur, Andrew Costello, Luiz-Ottavio Faria, Philip Alongi, Pamela Lloyd and Craig Ketter

It's about time someone showed Antonio Carlos Gomes some love and Opera Dolce was just the right group to do it.  The Brazilian composer, admired by Verdi and Liszt, is not exactly forgotten but neither is he remembered as he should be. Listening to arias and duets extracted from six of his operas, we were entranced by his way with melody. His compositional style always suited the character and the setting of the story, bridging bel canto and verismo

Reading the stories of the operas, happily included in the program, we learned that his plots were just as filled with love, jealousy, murderous rage and self-sacrifice as all the other mid-19th c. operas that we love so dearly.  Salvator Rosa, Maria Tudor, Joanna de Flandres, Lo Schiavo, Fosca and Il Guarany would all be perfectly wonderful given a full production.

For the moment, however, we were content to hear some fine large voices fill the space of the auditorium of Washington Irving High School, newly restored to Art Deco magnificence-- none of which distracted from the auditory treats. Sopranos Elena Heimur and Pamela Lloyd both have expansive sounds and the requisite dramatic intensity to get these arias across.  Glamorously gowned, they took possession of the stage with commitment to the material and communicated the passion to the audience.

Tenors Adam Cromer and Philip Alongi both exhibited the same assets--commitment, communication and passion.  Bass-baritone Andrew Costello filled the auditorium with a deep rich sound and bass Luiz-Ottavio Faria absolutely commanded the stage with a sound that reminded us of chocolate stout.  We particularly enjoyed his "Oh Dio degli Aymoré" from Il Guarany and "Di Padre, Di Sposo" from Salvator Rosa.

Other favorite selections included Ms. Heimur's love duet with Mr. Cromer--"Soli del Mondo Immemori" from Fosca, in which the pair achieved perfect balance and harmony of voices.  Mr. Cromer's solo from Maria Tudor, "Sol Ch'io ti sfiori", was especially lovely in the tender pianissimi moments.

In "Sogni d'amore" from Lo Schiavo, Mr. Costello's voice opened up beautifully under the influence of that gorgeous melody.  He showed another side of himself in the more lighthearted waltz "Senza Tetto" from Il Guarany, which reminded us of a drinking song.

Ms. Lloyd used her big bright sound to great advantage in "Vendetta" from Maria Tudor, backed by Maestro Rosenbaum's Canticum Novum Singers. In "Quale orribile peccato" from Fosca, she was called upon to show remorse for plotting a kidnapping and murder.

Mr. Alongi's solo "Intenditi con Dio" from Fosca was filled with passion and showed great dynamic control in an admirable diminuendo.  At the piano, Craig Ketter made a fine accompanist for all that drama and passion without ever drowning out the singers.

So...is there an adventurous company out there ready, willing and able to put one of these exemplary operas onstage?  We surely hope so!

© meche kroop

Saturday, October 11, 2014


Jeffrey Thompson and members of The New York Baroque Dance Company (photo by Louis Forget)

Thanks to Opera Lafayette, whose visits from Washington, D.C. are always welcome events, we were transported to  mid-18th c. France.  We were celebrating the marriage of the Dauphin with Maria-Josepha of Saxony; the culmination of a week of festivities was a piece d'occasion called Les Fetes de l'Hymen et de l'Amour, ou Les Dieux d'Egypte.  The marriage was a hasty one and Jean-Philippe Rameau had very little time to prepare so he pressed into service a heroic ballet in three parts he had just composed with libretto by Louis de Cahusac.  The work had been written for The Royal Academy of Music and all that needed to be added to suit the occasion was the prologue--a staging of the reconciliation of Amour (god of love) and Hymen (god of marriage).

Amour (adorable soprano Kelly Ballou, an audience favorite) pouts and sulks, fearful of Hymen's potential constraints.  Hymen (mezzo Laetitia de Beck Spitzer Grimaldi) reassures her and all ends happily under the watchful eye of Le Plaisir (tenor Aaron Sheehan).  The segment was directed and choreographed by Catherine Turocy whose excellent dancers from The New York Baroque Dance Company portrayed Les Grǎces in correct period style with joy and élan.

Act I comprised the story of  Orthésie, an Amazon Queen (soprano Claire Debono) who must overcome the objections of her aggressive confidant Mirrine (soprano Ingrid Perruche) in order to accept the offer of love from the god Osiris (tenor Jeffrey Thompson).  In this production (we have seen no other!) the Amazons have become South Asians, thrillingly danced by Kalanidhi Dance, whose director Aniradha Nehru choreographed and directed that segment with gorgeous exoticism.

For Act II, Sean Curran directed and choreographed the story of Canope, god of the Nile River (bass Francois Lis) who chastises his followers because they plan on a human sacrifice to appease him.  The proposed victim is the woman he loves and has courted under the guise of a mortal; her name is Memphis (Ms. Perruche) and she is ready to be sacrificed but Canope arrives at the last minute to save her.  Canope even gets in a line about gods wanting nothing to do with "odious priests".  Now there's a deus ex machina for you!  William Sharp lent his fine baritone to the role of the High Priest. The Sean Curran Company effectively portrayed the flowing river.

Catherine Turocy directed Act III, the story of Orie (Ms. Debono) who is in love with Aruéris, God of the Arts (Mr. Thompson) and wants to be loved for her beauty.  He must persuade her to express herself artistically which she does with some thrilling trills in her aria. Now he can love her for her art!  Ms. Grimaldi portrays a shepherdess and that shepherd whose tender tenor we would recognize anywhere was none other than recording artist Kyle Bielfield who contributes so much to the New York opera scene!

The voices were all topnotch but we must single out Mr. Thompson and Mr. Bielfield, not only for the purity of their voices but for their superlative French diction, for which no titles were necessary.  Ryan Brown conducted the lovely music with Andrew Appel providing the harpsichord continuo and Loretta O'Sullivan providing the cello continuo.  The music was sometimes restrained and at other times exploded into wild abandon--all of which was reflected in the choreography.

The success of the evening rested not only upon the musical and terpsichorean values but also on the visual.  The exotic costumes by Jennifer Tardiff Beall were nothing short of resplendent while The New York Baroque Dance Company provided their own costumes, equally gorgeous.  Masks and "Hymen's gift" were attributed to Jane Stein.  We believe that gift refers to the delightful scene-stealing ostrich prancing on human legs!  There was only one small false note in the entire three-hour evening.  In the last act Mr. Curran's choreography with its post-modern gestures seemed inapropos and intrusive.  Strangely, Ms. Nehru's choreography fit right in since it reflected the music.

We can scarcely wait for Opera Lafayette's return in May with Andre Grétry's "L'Épreuve villageoise".

© meche kroop

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Jennifer Johnson Cano
Michael Fabiano

When a singer we've been writing about makes it "bigtime" we get an incomparable thrill.  And that's exactly what happened at the Greene space last night when WQXR presented "Serenata Italiana", a very special evening celebrating some major talents.

Jennifer Johnson Cano, accompanied by her understandably happy husband Christopher Cano on the piano, threw heart and soul behind her stunning mezzo instrument to thrill us and everyone else present with highly dramatic renditions of an Italian aria, an Italian art song, and a Russian song added for good measure.

Vitellia's aria "Non più di fiori" from Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito was sung with gorgeous vibrato, enviable dynamic control and phrasing, true strength in the lower register, flexibility in the fioritura, lovely legato phrasing and a most exciting ritornello.  What more could one ask?

We have heard Liszt's "Pace non trovo" many times in master classes and know just how difficult it is to sing.  We have never before heard it sung by a woman until we heard Ms. Cano sing it, which we reviewed on a prior occasion.  This was a "sit up and take notice" event.  The lover's agony was performed with moving intensity that made sense of the text--Petrarch's superlative sonnet.  She ended with an exquisite decrescendo.  Major WOW!  We hope there will be a third hearing somewhere down the line.

Although the evening was meant to be an Italian one, we had no objections to the soul stirring performance of Rachmaninoff's "Spring Waters".  Ms. Cano is taking on the role of Hansel in the Humperdinck opera at the Met and should make an enormous success.

Tenor Michael Fabiano, capably accompanied by the always wonderful Laurent Philippe, absolutely blew the audience away with his powerful voice and enough intensity for a trio of tenors.  He offered "Federico's lament" from Cilea's L'Arlesienne, filling the room with Italianate passion.  Tosti's "L'alba separa dalla luce" was given equal intensity.  It is wonderful to witness Fabulous Fabiano's career skyrocketing.

Naomi Lewin interviewed both artists and it was fun learning interesting little facts about their lives and careers.  But when the magnificent Renata Scotto joined the group onstage, there was no denying the overwhelming impact of her outsized personality, manifested by wonderfully outspoken opinions, her expressive face and gesture, and a refreshing sense of humor.  We confess to being completely mesmerized.  What a worthwhile evening!

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


Teresa Tièschky and Matthias Winckhler
On occasion of the celebration of "Da Ponte Day", the Austrian Cultural Forum presented a fine recital in their acoustically perfect small hall last night.  With impeccable scholarship, pianist Wolfgang Brunner assembled a varied program of piano music alternating with arias and duets by Mozart for which Da Ponte wrote the libretti. Two excellent young singers from the Universität Mozarteum Salzburg were brought over to perform and we are delighted to report that they did justice to Mozart's music and Da Ponte's texts.

We have written several times about the challenges of singing lieder in a large hall--especially the challenge of creating intimacy.  In this case we had the opposite situation, one of scaling back large operatic arias and duets to suit a small hall.  This, the two talented young German singers accomplished without sacrificing the grandeur. Mozart must be "in the blood" so to speak.

Selections from Nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Così Fan Tutte were presented--all the highlights we have come to know and love. Soprano Teresa Tièschky has the lovely light coloratura that we enjoy hearing and just the right personality for Susanna.  She introduced us to an aria we had never before heard which had been specially written for Adriana del Bene detta la Ferrarese for the 1789 revival of the opera.  The recitativo proceeded as expected but then...big surprise...no "Deh, vieni non tardar" but "Al desio di chi t'adora".  We'd love to hear it again!

Miss T. was just as charming as Despina and Zerlina and, in fact, sang another piece with which we were unfamiliar.  "Restate quà...Per queste tue manine", a duet with Leporello in which she ties him up! This duet was written for the first performance of Don Giovanni in Vienna in 1788. The part of Leporello was sung by Matthias Winckhler who has a graceful lyric baritone that falls gently on the ear.

Mr. Winckhler (untied) was even more impressive as Don Giovanni in the lovely serenade "Deh vieni alla finestra"; his duet with Ms. T. "La ci darem la mano" was enacted so well that the audience demanded an encore and we got to hear it again.  Significantly, the two young artists put a slightly different spin on it the second time which lent a sense of spontaneity that we genuinely appreciated.

Mr. W.'s flexibility of characterization was evidenced when he sang "Hai già vinta la causa!".  Perhaps Il Conte and Don Giovanni are both arrogant men but he showed us two different characters. His Guglielmo was an interesting third characterization.

All of this wonderful singing alternated with some rarely heard piano pieces, perfectly performed by Wolfgang Brunner.  So many composers wrote variations based on Mozart's operatic melodies, including his own son Franz Xaver Mozart who was only 14 years old when he tackled the minuet from Don Giovanni.  Sadly his father died when he was a baby but he surely inherited his father's genes.

The other composers we heard who had tackled such variations included Johann Baptist Cramer, Joseph Woelfl and Camille Pleyel (son of Ignaz).  All stood tall on the shoulders of the giant--Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Three cheers for the artists, for the Mozarteum and for the Austrian Cultural Forum for introducing us to so many novelties and for doing such a fine job on the standard pieces.

© meche kroop